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Planning Concordat

An effective land use planning system is vital for the wellbeing of the United Kingdom. It provides the framework within which decisions are made about the way towns, cities and the countryside are developed.

It provides the means through which competing demands between economic, social and environmental considerations are balanced and resolved to achieve sustainable development.

This Concordat provides the basis for partnership between central and local government to deliver a modernised planning system.

It sets out six basic principles against which the planning system needs to operate. Its objective is to create a fair and efficient land use planning system that respects regional differences and promotes development which is of high quality and sustainable.

The planning system needs to be:

  • aimed at achieving sustainable development
  • set within a regional context
  • led by development plans
  • open and transparent, involving both local people and developers
  • speedy and efficient, delivering best value
  • co-ordinated with other policy areas and with public and private investment.

Aimed at achieving sustainable development

Sustainable development is about ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. It provides the context within which consideration of economic, social and environmental impacts are balanced and integrated.

Through regional planning, development plans and development control decisions, local government will seek to meet central government’s objectives for sustainable development: high and stable levels of economic growth and employment; social progress which meets the needs of everyone; effective protection of the environment and prudent use of natural resources.

Set within a regional context

Regional Planning Guidance (RPG) provides the regional framework for the preparation of local authority development plans. It should incorporate a regional transport strategy and provide the longer-term, spatial planning strategy for the Regional Development Agencies’ (RDAs) economic strategies.

RPG should increasingly be shaped by regional planning bodies working in partnership with Regional Chambers, Government Offices, RDAs and other regional stakeholders in the public and private sectors. This will promote greater local ownership of regional policies and increased commitment to their implementation through the statutory planning process. RPG should include a sustainability appraisal.

Led by development plans

The Local Government Association (LGA) and Communities and Local Government (CLG) are committed to a development plan-led system which provides the framework for consistent planning decisions. However, under-performance by some local authorities in producing statutory authority-wide local plans and Unitary Development Plans could undermine the plan-led system.

The lack of an up-to-date plan means that individual decisions are taken in a vacuum outside the context of policies which have been properly consulted on through a statutory process. Public accountability and the legitimacy of the planning system are therefore eroded and the planning system cannot provide the development industry with the certainty it needs.

Local planning authorities that are currently without an up-to-date plan need to address the situation as a matter of priority. In particular, they need to commit adequate resources and staffing throughout the development plan process.

Open and transparent

The planning system needs to encourage the positive involvement of local communities, the private sector and other interested groups. Plans and other documents need to be comprehensible to the general public.

The planning system in the United Kingdom has a good record in terms of probity; it is vital that the highest possible standards are maintained.

The Nolan Report identified areas where local authorities have fallen short and the LGA subsequently published its own guide for local authority councillors, Probity in Planning. This document is commended to all local authorities.

Speed and efficiency: delivering best value

The planning system needs to deliver sustainable development of high quality with proper consultation on planning decisions. It needs to provide an efficient service to its customers, whether this is for small, householder applications or major developments by business.

People need to know that once a planning application has been made it will be dealt with efficiently and effectively without unnecessary delays.

The government’s national target is that local authorities should decide 80 per cent of planning applications within eight weeks. Many local authorities are on the way of achieving this target and some are exceeding it.

Local authorities are encouraged to develop local targets on speed and quality, agreed with local applicants, including the development industry, to support the achievement of best value in planning services.

The application to planning services of best value will involve consultation with users, strategic reviews of services, comparison with other local planning authorities, the use of performance measures and auditing and inspection on a regular basis to ensure continuous improvements.

Local authorities should also exchange and encourage good practice. Considerable progress has been made by many authorities on greater delegation to officers; use of 'one stop shops' to help small businesses and others; the provision of clear guidelines for applicants and more effective management and monitoring arrangements, including the use of information technology. The LGA facilitates good practice at a national level and through its regional organisations.

Developers and other planning applicants are urged to discuss their proposals in detail with local planning authorities before they submit their planning applications. This will ensure fundamental points are addressed at an early stage and avoid delays in the process later on. Applicants should also respond promptly to requests from planning authorities, for example, for additional information.

 To avoid misunderstandings, the applicant and local planning authority should agree how an application will be dealt with from the outset. This is particularly useful for large developments on which negotiations are likely to extend beyond the eight week period.

Statutory consultees involved in the planning process (for example, English Heritage, the Environment Agency and the Highways Agency) also have a vital role to play in ensuring that the system works efficiently. Prompt responses from statutory consultees are important to avoid delaying planning applications.

CLG, including the regional Government Offices, will ensure that the use of Article 14 Directions does not cause undue delay and that, where an application is called-in, the process is handled as expeditiously as possible.

The Planning Inspectorate has an important role to play in helping to improve the efficiency of the planning process. It is set targets for the speed with which it handles planning appeals, provides an inspector for local plan inquiries and delivers the inspector’s report for those inquiries. The targets are reviewed annually for the years ahead. The Inspectorate's website has details of the current targets for the handling of appeals.

Co-ordination with other policy areas and with public and private investment

Land use planning at all levels, from national guidance to local plans, cannot operate in isolation from other areas of public policy. Too often in the past land use planning has been accused of being reactive and defensive; by involving itself more in wider policy areas it can be more proactive and act as an enabler.

Local planning authorities need to integrate their development plans and development control decisions with closely related plans and policies, for example, transport, housing, economic development, social inclusion, health and education.

Plans and planning decisions also need to take account of local investment opportunities and potential investment decisions by other public and private bodies. For example, plans should be closely co-ordinated with transport investment, housing and regeneration funding.

Planning authorities also need to take account of the needs of the business community and work with private investors to maximise the potential for sustainable economic growth and the provision of benefits to the wider community.